Nina Dogg Filippusdottir
Nina Dogg Filippusdottir as detective Katrin ‘Kata’ Gunnarsdottir © BBC/TRUENORTH

You might need to put the central heating up while watching this eight-part Icelandic thriller; it has the potential to make your core temperature drop a couple of points. Not necessarily due to the horror of its serial killer, but more the hypnotic effect of the endless shots of snow and icy water, backed by a score of tinkling electronic dread. 

It begins steamily enough, with an energetic clinch in a bar washroom. The woman, Iris (Arnbjorg Hlif Valsdottir), is particularly vocal in her enjoyment. An unwelcome phone call for Thor, her swain, cuts things short. “I never touched him!” Thor (Vilhjalmur Hjalmarsson) shouts, adding something that doesn’t need a translation. Iris toddles off into the night, and Thor is savagely attacked while taking a piddle in a dock basin. 

Dragged in for questioning by detective Katrin “Kata” Gunnarsdottir (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir), Iris is less than helpful: “Ow-wow! Owie-yowie-yow!” she screams, in some of the finest inarticulate acting I’ve ever seen. Once Iris has remembered to use words, she informs Kata they were followed from the bar by a shadowy figure. “He wore dark clothes.” No kidding. You can barely buy anything else in Reykjavik to judge from the cast wardrobe. 

The trope of the jaunty, rock-music-playing pathologist has reached Iceland. Breaking off from the 30-year-old skeleton of a young teenage boy, mentioned so casually it’s bound to be key to the plot, this one admires Thor’s postmortem peeper-slashing: “That’s something I don’t see very often.” Well, he’s in for a treat now.

The next corpse is from an entirely different social stratum than sleazy, drug-dealing Thor. Omar is an investment banker (delightfully in egalitarian Iceland, this equates to only modest home comforts). The MO’s the same, and police chief Magnus is keen to keep this news from the media, or “the situation could descend into anarchy!” Relax, Magnus, everyone looks far too cold for that. 

Kata is embroiled in strife both at home and at the office, what with back-stabbing Magnus and resentful colleague Helga. Kata’s teenage son Kari (Grettir Valsson) is going off the rails, and her annoying ex, Egill, is seemingly going out with Medusa. As for the murder investigation, reinforcements are called in from Oslo and arrive in the form of craggy, haunted Arnar (Bjorn Thors), light on luggage but lugging a sackful of angst. He has a very stern way of saying “nei” to Kata, so thank goodness she has an ally in lanky IT guy Elingor (Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson), handsome despite his bizarrely flat hair. A wry and warm performance by Filippusdottir helps keep the chilblains at bay. 

★★★★☆

From November 21 on BBC4 at 9pm

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